By JAMES BURGER, Californian staff writer firstname.lastname@example.org
In kicking off her campaign for 5th District Supervisor, former Kern County public defender Leticia Perez focused on staking her claim to the home turf advantage in the race by playing up the differences between herself and current Supervisor Karen Goh.
Perez, whose potential candidacy has been talked about for weeks, confirmed she will run for the office against Goh during a Friday morning news conference at Jefferson Park.
She was backed by a diverse host of community leaders, politicos, union leaders and family, including her husband, Fernando Jara, and young son, Jude.
Goh has already confirmed she will run for election to the office she holds.
Perez said the voters of the 5th District should not pick a supervisor who used “political loopholes” to gain a position of power over them — referring to Goh’s appointment to the 5th District seat by former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Instead, Perez argued, they should judge the candidates “by how deep the roots of a candidate reach into the earth of this district.”
She pointed out how her mother, a Vietnam veteran, was born at Kern Medical Center and her father worked the fields around Arvin and Lamont.
They went to Bible college and returned to Bakersfield to lead a church here.
Perez grew up in the 5th District, she said, and perfected her three-point shot on the basketball courts of Jefferson Park, near where she stood to speak to the crowd Friday.
Then she too went away to college, only to follow in her parents’ footsteps by returning home to Kern County to serve, in her case with a law degree to serve as a Kern County deputy public defender.
Perez’s boss, State Sen. Michael Rubio, D-Shafter, was at the news conference to support her for the seat he gave up to take office as a state senator.
“I am the last person who walked these streets and sat in these living rooms to earn the trust of the citizens to be the 5th District Supervisor,” Rubio said.
“Stand with me as we earn our district back,” Perez said.
Perez said she respects Goh personally and said the former director of non-profit Garden Pathways — who went to Bakersfield High School and the University of Southern California before taking a corporate publishing job in New York City as a vice president for The McGraw-Hill Companies — is a hard worker and has good intentions.
But, Perez said, “She lacks the insight into the heart of the district” where a “vast segment of the community struggles to make ends meet.”
Reached after the news conference, Goh declined to comment on Perez’s comments, saying only, “today is her day and I would like to let her have her day.”
Perez graduated from U.C. Santa Barbara in 2000 and worked as a community banker at Wells Fargo Bank until 2003 before heading to the Valparaiso University School of Law, where she graduated with her law degree in 2006.
She worked as a deputy political director for the United Farm Workers of America in Keene from 2007 to 2008 when she joined the Kern County Public Defender’s office as an indigent defense attorney.
Perez was appointed to the Kern County Planning Commission by Rubio in 2008 and served until 2011.
She joined Rubio’s staff as a field representative and consultant in 2011.
Her husband Fernando is a pastor at Believers in Jesus Church and is the executive director of Rockhill Farm — a residential facility and farm that focuses on the rehabilitation of former drug addicts and gang members.
Perez brushed aside comparisons between what Goh, who like Perez is the daughter of a pastor, did with mentoring programs for at risk children and adults at Garden Pathways and what here husband does at Rockhill.
Jara, who Perez said had a troubled youth and spent time in California Youth Authority, is able to use his experience to do direct gang intervention work and help the people at Rockhill develop their faith and build their lives without forcing a belief system on them.
That need for a helping hand is what Perez said the 5th District needs as well.
People there are proud and don’t want outsiders coming in and telling them what to do but, Perez said, “So many of our children don’t have the same resources to build their own success.”